This theoretical research focuses on the acquisition and learning of the English language in a self-regulatory manner. Self-regulated learning is the student’s ability to direct, monitor, and assess their own learning process (Kester & Merriënboer, 2013). According to Zimmerman, self-regulated learning comes in three phases: preparation, effectuation, and reflection (2000, 2006).
Acquisition of a language is the “gradual development of ability in a language by using it naturally in communicative situations with others who know the language" (Yule, 2011, p. 187), as opposed to learning a language, which is a “more conscious process of accumulating knowledge of the features, such as vocabulary and grammar, of a language, typically in an institutional setting" (Yule, 2011, p.187). Often, acquisition leads to proficiency, and learning helps to gather knowledge. The combination of acquisition and learning has proven to be very efficient in English Second Language Learners (Yule, 2011). In ESLL teaching methodology, this is known as the post-communicative approach. The aim of this approach is to focus on fluency rather than accuracy, but accuracy is used to support proficiency (Ur, 2012).
Nowadays, schools strive to educate their students to become contributors to a better, richer 21st century (Meester, Bergsen & Kirschner, 2017). Competencies such as collaborative problem-solving, self-regulated learning, creativity, and global awareness are a few of the most significant skills; and students’ learning environments can have an important role in developing them (Groff, 2013; Groff & Mouza, 2008; Yelland, 2007; Hannafin & Land, 1997; Riel, 1994). Research has shown that students who apply self-regulated learning effectively, tend to be more active, resourceful, and effective at academic task performance (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011). This may even have a positive effect on procrastination (Pintrich, 1999). Many studies have confirmed that self-regulated learning has a positive effect on students’ performance (Azevedo & Cromley, 2004; Masui & de Corte, 2005; Pintrich, 2002; Pressley & Ghatala, 1990). In this paper/study, second language acquisition as well as learning will be discussed at first. Subsequently, the essence of self-regulated learning will be addressed. Lastly, these two areas of knowledge will be combined, to explore self-regulated learning for ESLL.
Language Acquisition and Learning
Second language acquisition has been researched extensively. Unfortunately, there has not been a clear conclusion as to how language is acquired (Juffs, 2011). There is also no consensus on the origin of languages (Yule, 2014).
Second language learning and acquisition consists of four main skills, and two sub-skills. The main skills are reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The first two are the receptive skills. Speaking and writing are productive skills. The two sub-skills are vocabulary and grammar (Staatsen & Heebing, 2015; Ur, 2012).
The main skills, also known as the communicative skills, focus on acquisition, as the main goal is proficiency (Yule, 2011). According to Byram, Second Language Acquisition should be used to stimulate communication and build cultural competence. This can be done by using authentic material in the target language (2013), which is also part of the post-communicative approach, mentioned by Ur (2012). Apart from that, the learning activities should be communicative, in which students use the target language in a meaningful manner (Staatsen & Heebing, 2015; Ur, 2012).
Exposure to comprehensible input (i.e. texts and audio on an appropriate level of proficiency) in the target language is crucial for language acquisition and the development of receptive skills (Krashen, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1998), and has a positive effect on the acquisition of the productive skills (Krashen, 1982, 1985; Anceaux, 1989; Doughty & Long, 2003). As opposed to first language acquisition, second language acquisition relies heavily on the ability to consciously reflect and receive feedback on the produced language (Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2008; DeKeyser, 2000). When providing feedback, variation in self-assessment, peer feedback, and expert feedback is important (Spada, 2013). The feedback should be relevant to the phase of development the student is in, and it should be considerably positive, in order for the student to find the motivation to improve their language skills (Hattie, 2012; Hattie & Yates, 2014). It is important to find a balance between correcting mistakes that do not impede communication, and praising fluency and production of language in order to to avoid loss of motivation (Heebing & Staatsen, 2015; Simons & Decoo, 2009). Motivation is an important factor in successful language acquisition (Csizér, Dörnyei, & Mod Lang, 2005; Gardner, 1985), because positive motivation tends to increase engagement with the target culture, which enables deeper processing of the target language (Heilman, Juffs, & Eskenazi, 2007).
In language learning acquiring common vocabulary, as opposed to irrelevant words, is important (Schmitt, 2012). Deciding on common vocabulary can be done by language experts, but also by learners of the language. Words that a student frequently encounters because of interest in a certain topic, can also be seen as common vocabulary (Bogaards & Laufer-Dvorkin, 2004; Ur, 2012). Vocabulary should always be offered in context, and should be defined or translated by the ESL-learners themselves (Schmitt, 2012). The testing of vocabulary, should also be done in context, however, translation is not necessarily a bad way to test understanding (Hughes, 2013).
Grammar, similar to vocabulary, can be selected on frequency of use, on distinct differences in grammar compared to the learner’s first language, or it can be based on the learner’s errors (Davis & Rimmer, 2010; Ur, 2012). The latter, according to Thornbury (2005, p. 32), is most effective, and creates a less teacher-focused classroom setting. Thornbury also claims that emerging grammar, rather than form-focused learning, is more motivating and efficient (2005).
In conclusion, language acquisition consists of reading, listening, writing, and speaking. These skills are most easily acquired, when they are used for meaningful communication. The receptive skills require a lot of comprehensible input and exposure. The productive skills require feedback, and are dependent on the development of the receptive skills. To support the main skills, the sub-skills vocabulary and grammar should be trained as well. Vocabulary and grammar should be offered on context. The choice of vocabulary lists or grammatical structures that need to be learnt, can be made based on the language a student encounters and produces. Self-regulated learning is a student-centred, where feedback and meaningful situations play an important role. This will be discussed in the next paragraphs.
According to Zimmerman, self-regulated learning comes in three phases: preparation, effectuation, and reflection (2000, 2006). In the preparation phase, the student sets objectives and gathers information, and decides on strategies to reach these goals. In the effectuation, the student monitors the strategies and adjusts if necessary, and the student keeps track of their process. The teacher functions particularly in this phase as a coach. The evaluation phase observes the learning process in retrospective, and collects implications for future learning processes (Ertmer & Newby, 1996; Fowler, 2008; Kester & Merriënboer, 2013).
Six dimensions are entral to self-regulated learning,: why, how, when, where, with whom, and what (Dembo, et al., 2006). The dimensions will be addressed in more detail in Self-Regulated Learning in ESLL.
ICT can facilitate the aforementioned three-step process of self-regulated learning, for instance through an online portfolio, which helps students keep an overview of their learning process. The responsibility for this portfolio can be the students’, the teacher’s, or a shared responsibility, depending on the students’ self-regulatory skills (Kester & Merriënboer, 2013).
Working online is mostly beneficial, because it is time and cost-saving, however, the structure and didactical concepts of the lesson, determine the effectiveness and learning efficiency (Clark & Feldon, 2005). Online learning is difficult when the objective is a language, as language acquisition requires opportunities for output (Swain, 1995), and exposure to comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985). Furthermore, to receive feedback, communication is vital, and this communication includes the ability to apply compensating strategies, and to recognize the need to alter language in order to convey the correct message (Long, 1996). However, students who apply self-monitoring skills, tend to be actively involved, and are more likely to successfully acquire a language using online resources only (Hurd, 2001). To cater to all needs, self-regulatory learning for ESLL should be offered both online and offline.
According to Kester and Merriënboer, digital learning activities should fit the manner in which information is processed in our memory (2013), which is confirmed by Ambrose, et al, claiming that how students organise knowledge influences how they learn and apply new material (2010). However, the memory processing system has a ‘bottleneck effect’, meaning overload can clog the system. This is also known as the Cognitive Load Theory (Merriënboer et al., 2005; Sweller, 1988). To avoid cognitive overload, the following aspects need to be taken into account: the student’s attention must be aimed; the complexity of the study material needs to be reduced; support needs to be given; irrelevant information needs to be left out; and both the visual and audial systems need to be invoked (Kester & Merriënboer, 2013). Additionally, Kester and Merriënboer claim that in the design of activities, motivational colours, shapes, and details need to be left out, because they solely hinder learning (2013). In contrast, Ambrose et al mentions that “(…) students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they learn,” (2010).
To conclude, self-regulated learning comes in three phases: Preparation, effectuation, and evaluation. These three steps can be monitored with use of an online portfolio, where to both students and teacher have access. The learning should not occur online only, but also offline to ensure opportunity for interaction. Apart from that, the Cognitive Load Theory should not be overlooked, which means that redundancy needs to be taken into account.
Self-Regulated Learning in ESLL
An online portfolio can be used to monitor self-regulated learning (Kester & Merriënboer, 2013), but formulating learning goals without further support, may prove difficult for most students. Research by Gu and Johnson (1996) has found that self-regulated learning concerning English vocabulary, can significantly and positively predict effective acquisition and vocabulary size. Similarly, Park (1997) found a distinct correlation between metacognitive abilities and scores on language tests. These skills are inherently stronger developed in girls, who tend to have greater self-discipline (Duckworth & Selighman, 2006; Ablard & Lipschultz, 1998; Pokay & Blumenfeld, 1990; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990). Regarding language acquisition, several studies have contradicted each other on whether boys or girls have innate advantageous neurological structures to master a foreign language (Baxter et al., 2003; Weiss, Kemmler, Deisenhammer, Fleischhacker, & Delazer, 2003; Oxford & Nyikos, 1989; Ehrman & Oxford, 1989, 1990; Bacon, 1992). For either gender, research suggests that the proactive role towards acquiring a language, rather than inherent advantages, is more important in achieving learning goals (Tseng, Dörnyei, & Schmitt, 2006; Tseng & Schmitt, 2008). However, applying self-regulated learning successfully, requires a more proactive attitude.
Most important in the success of self-regulated learning, is the coaching provided by the teacher (Çelik, Arkın, & Sabriler, 2012). This is confirmed by Lin, Zheng, and Zhang, who suggest that in online learning, expert-learner, and content-learner contact is important, but learner-learner contact is less significant (2017). Apart from that, students require to be challenged, in order to avoid boredom (Tseng, Liu & Nix, 2017). Boredom decreases the likelihood that student will apply self-regulated learning, or other strategies requiring effort (Macklem, 2015, p. 42). When self-monitoring skills are applied in challenging situations, students’ attitude towards learning improves, their performance in language acquisition develops, and general motivation and confidence concerning language proficiency increases (Chang, 2007).The ability to set learning goals, and to self-evaluate, has shown to be crucial to ESLL (Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 1996). Providing feedback on set learning goals, providing questions for evaluation, and considering the six dimensions of self-regulated learning when formulation learning goals, can support this crucial component of self-regulated learning (Andrade & Bunker, 2009).
The aforementioned six dimensions of self-regulated learning – how, why, when, where, with whom, and what – construct a complete image of self-regulated learning (Dembo, et al., 2006). When setting learning goals, these six questions should be answered.
How concerns the method of learning, and includes strategies such as summarizing, asking questions, and creating visuals (Andrade & Bunker, 2009). According to Moore, providing tools and structure in learning can increase the number of learning strategies learners can apply, but it also decreases learners’ autonomy (1972, 2007). Scaffolding learning is important, but within self-regulated learning, it should predominantly be based on suggestions. Apart from that, techniques for learning sub-skills and acquiring main skills, should be emphasized (Andrade & Bunker, 2009).
The reason for the learning goals (why) concerns motive, and motivation (Andrade & Bunker, 2009). The two types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to achieve learning goals, as opposed to extrinsic information, which concerns an external factor, such as grades or graduating (Staatsen & Heebing, 2015). Intrinsic motivation tends to be more effective in language acquisition (Heilman, Juffs, & Eskenazi, 2007; Staatsen & Heebing, 2015). Motivation plays a key role in language acquisition, and requires development of positive self-talk, goal setting, and teaching learners how to manage their emotions, because emotions can negatively influence acquisition (Andrade & Bunker, 2009).
The third dimension of self-regulated learning for ESLL, is when, and addresses time. Time management is an important component of self-regulated learning and can be supported by providing time indications for activities. Apart from that, it can be useful to provide tips for structuring time (Andrade & Bunker, 2009).
Where does not only include the physical environment, but especially the characteristics of the environment, and whether these can be adapted to changing needs (Andrade & Bunker, 2009). Beforehand, it is important to decide whether the learning activities require for instance a quiet spot, or interaction with peers.
The fifth dimension, with whom, addresses the ability to determine what the learner needs from the environment (Andrade & Bunker, 2009). As opposed to traditional education, self-regulated learning requires the learner to find the material and help they need (Kester & Merriënboer, 2013). In language learning, interaction is a crucial component (Staatsen & Heebing, 2015; Ur, 2012), because it enables the development of communicative competence (Canale & Swain, 1980). Affective filters, inhibitions concerning producing language, can hinder the development of communicative competence (Krashen, 1981). Therefore, the choice of a trusted conversation partner, and an appropriate level in learning activity can be important. Andrade and Bunker (2009) mention that suggestions for interactive exercises and how to contact native speakers, could be included in an educational design. Additionally, facilitating situations wherein interaction can take place, can also support learners in developing communicative competence.
What is learnt, performance, includes reflecting, observing, and assessing (Andrade & Bunker, 2009). What is learnt is most apparent in the aforementioned evaluation phase of self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2000, 2006). To self-monitor the development of language, reflective journals can be useful. Feedback from experts (Van den Boom, Paas & van Merriënboer, 2007), and self-reflection on performance (Murphy, 2005), have proven to be effective within a reflective journal. Feedback through interaction, to notice the gap between the learner’s proficiency and required communicative skills, has also shown effective (Swain, 1995).
To sum up, self-regulated learning requires a coaching teacher, providing feedback on learning goals and the effectuation phase. These learning goals, should be formulated using the how, why, when, where, with whom, and what-questions. Apart from that, acquiring a language in a self-regulatory manner, requires learners to have plenty opportunity for interaction, and suggestions for learning activities.
Self-regulated learning is a manner of learning in which the student directs, monitors, and assess their own learning. This can be supported by ICT, for example through an online portfolio, or through designed activities by teachers. Such activities need to take into account how people learn and how the memory works. This means both the audial and visual systems need to invoked, motivation needs to be generated, but cognitive overload needs to be avoided, by applying redundancy.
Self-Regulated learning and Language AcquisitionLearning a language in a self-regulatory manner, can be done with use of an online portfolio that focuses on learner-formulated learning goals. These learning goals are part of the preparation phase, which is followed by effectuation, and evaluation. In setting learning goals, the how, why, when, where, with whom, and what-questions should be answered, and concern the four main-skills, and two sub skills. The topics that need to be explored regarding the sub skills can be determined by what students encounter and produce, such as common vocabulary, or grammar that is often applied incorrectly. Both vocabulary and grammar need to be offered in authentic contexts. These can be gathered from the comprehensible input that students require to have access to.
For both language acquisition and self-regulated learning, feedback is important. The feedback should be provided by the teacher, peers, and the learner themselves.
Developing self-regulatory skillsOnce the learning objectives have been formulated, the learner requires suggestions for learning activities to reach these goals. The learning activities should have a time indication, to facilitate planning and time-management skills. Similarly, suggestions for real-time interaction with native speakers, teacher, or fellow students, need to be provided. Interaction can function as an important part of gaining proficiency, and as feedback.
Feedback on the formulated learning goals, and peer feedback, facilitate the development of self-regulatory skills. Peer feedback allows students to discover others’ learning strategies, and thereby expands their own repertoire. Applying self-evaluation is also a significant component of developing self-regulatory skills. This needs to be facilitated by providing students with questions that evoke self-reflection.
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